After a teacher allegedly referred to his biracial son as “a mutt,” an outraged dad spoke out against the derogatory term with a powerful Facebook post.
Last week, Kevin L. Brown posted a photo of his 11-year-old son Kaden, who is a student at Wolfe Middle School in Center Line, Michigan. In the photo, the boy holds a sign that reads “I am not a mutt!!!”
Brown wrote in the caption that on Oct. 12, Kaden’s teacher, whom he described as a white middle-aged woman, asked the boy, “are you a mutt?”
When Kaden replied that he didn’t know what that meant, the teacher and a fellow student allegedly told him it meant he was mixed race.
“This left my son, my heart and joy feeling like he meant nothing, that he was less than nothing,” Brown wrote. “He even went home and asked his mother “why cant I be all white?”, he wants to disown his African American heritage for his mother’s German, Italian, Irish heritage (guess his mom is a Mutt too)!!!”
The dad added, “This teacher made my son feel dirty, calling him a mutt, a dog with no identity who doesn’t belong. I AM OUTRAGED!!! This racist behavior should not be allowed in our schools, our children should never be faced with this BS, especially in the classroom from people that we (parents) entrust our children’s protection.”
Brown encouraged social media users to share his post, protest the teacher’s words and take photos holding signs like Kaden’s to show their support.
“This can not be tolerated,” he wrote. “I am tired of the hate, tired of the affliction and pissed off that my innocent child has become just another victim to racism in this county.”
Brown’s post received over 16,000 likes and 20,00 shares. Some readers heeded Brown’s call and filled his inbox with photos of their own children.
Brown told The Huffington Post he wanted to speak out about this issue because of his love for his son. “He is such a joy to be around and to see him hurt, confused, and wanting to disown his African-American heritage disturbed me deeply,” he said.
The dad explained that Kaden experienced bullying in elementary school, so the family was hopeful that middle school would offer a fresh start. That has not been the case, however, he added, noting that other students have called Kaden the n-word.
“Now his fourth-hour teacher decided to label him a ‘mutt’ in front of his entire class, giving his peers even more ammunition against my child,” Brown said.
Fearing the damaging effects of bullying, the dad wrote his Facebook post to show his son how many people support him and recognize how special he is, inside and out.
In addition to writing the post, Brown said he reached out to Wolfe Middle School to make a complaint. “We have not yet had the opportunity to speak with the teacher,” the dad said. The parents had a meeting with the principal, assistant principal, superintendent and assistant superintendent, but, Brown added, “we only spoke of their policies and not their apologies for the belittlement of my 11-year-old son.”
Andrew McKinnon, the assistant superintendent for human resources for Center Line Public Schools, told The Huffington Post that the school district is working to arrange a formal apology from the teacher, who has not been in the classroom since they opened an investigation into the incident. Contrary to some reports, however, McKinnon said she has not been out on paid administrative leave.
McKinnon said the investigation confirmed that there was an exchange between Kaden and his teacher which included the term “mutt.”
“None of our staff ever intends to injure a child in any way,” McKinnon noted. “The teacher is very sorry and wants to apologize, wants to make this right.”
He added, “That word, because of its historical context, is not acceptable. It has caused a lot of hurt to a lot of people at this point, and that’s never the intent for our educators. We are working with the family and the teacher to apologize.”
McKinnon said the school district is also organizing sensitivity training workshops for its employees. “We want to pull together as a community and use this opportunity to learn and to have these very difficult conversations.”
“"This word dehumanizes a person. The definition in itself compares one to a dog, without origin ... a mixed breed."”
Brown said he also hopes his son’s experience can educate others. “There are people who feel there is nothing wrong with the word,” he said. “This is hopefully a teaching moment for them ― that you cant speak to someone, especially a child, in such a derogatory way.”
The dad explained why he believes the term “mutt” is so problematic. “This word dehumanizes a person,” he said. “The definition in itself compares one to a dog, without origin ... a mixed breed. That is not my son.”
He added, “How can you go out in life and expect to be everything God intended you to be with this stigma hanging over you?”
Since sharing his post, Brown said he’s received hundreds of Facebook messages from people who related to Kaden’s story and found his courage to speak out empowering.
“There are many multiethnic families and individuals that have been hurt by society, hurt by words that have had a lasting, life-long sting,” the dad said. “I can’t imagine living a life where you are not black enough for one group and not white enough for the other.”
Ultimately, Brown said, “Kaden is a child who is loved deeply and whose parents will go to the ends of this earth to protect his interest.”